Gospel Fishing -A Fish or A Snake?

Gospel Fishing -A Fish or A Snake?

Gospel Fishing – A Fish or A Snake?

“You fathers – if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your  children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 11:11-13).

Prayer was a hot topic with Jesus and His disciples, and He had much to say about it. Luke 11 is a collection of Christ’s thoughts on the topic of prayer, closing with His words about the Father’s gifts to His children.

The disciples were observing Jesus once when he was engaged in prayer with the Father, and after waiting respectfully for Jesus to finish, they approached Him and asked Him to teach them how to pray, how to pray like He did. Jesus didn’t respond with a five-point sermon on prayer, or a reference to a passage about prayer, or some ready-made formula for how to reach the Father. He gave them an example of what He prayed, the words to use as they start to learn how to pray as He did. Jesus told them, “When you pray, say this...” (11:2). Jesus assumed that they would learn how to pray by praying, learning by doing. Jesus gave them a model prayer to get started in the right direction.

After teaching them “the Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus offered a simple but profound parable regarding hospitality, the importance of persistence in prayer, and the assurance of God’s intention of responding to their prayers. The story is about an ill-timed request for bread in the middle of the night, directed at an irritable, unresponsive neighbor.

After the story about the resistant neighbor, Jesus leads the reader into our passage about the loving Father with the famous words, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (11:9).  The biblical interpreters all agree that the Greek tenses in these words all clearly state, “Keep on asking… keep on seeking… keep on knocking.” Jesus is saying that persistence is rewarded, and persisting in your prayers is a good test of faith. God promises that those who continue to ask will receive from God, that those who keep seeking will find what God wants you to discover, and if you remain at the door knocking and making yourself heard, God will indeed answer the door.

Jesus then moves right into the nature of the loving Father who gives good gifts to His children. Because the Jewish faith is so child-centered, Jesus just assumed the parents in His audience are good parents and that they display a loving concern for their children. We can go all the way back to Father Abraham regarding the importance of a loving parent. In fact, that seems to be why God chose him in the first place, that he was good father. The Lord knew that Abraham would be a responsible and diligent father to “lead his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” (Gen. 18:19). If Abraham was not a good father, the Chosen People will not have a chance of surviving the first generation.

So ever since Abraham, the Jewish faith has been family-oriented and child-centered. Jewish tradition is to remain effective in the home, responsible parents, leading the children into the faith and maturity. Jesus knew that of course a good Jewish father would never even consider giving a snake after a child asked for fish, or a scorpion after a child asked for an egg. Those pairs of things were not random, by the way. When a scorpion rolls itself up and hides its claws and tail, it actually looks like an egg. And fishermen regularly catch in their nets a snake-like eel from the Sea of Galilee which has the appearance of a snake. So a fisherman father wouldn’t even think about giving a child an unclean eel instead of kosher fish from the Sea. Good fathers just don’t do things like that. Well, Jesus said, if an imperfect, sinful father knows how to care for his children, how much more will a perfect, loving heavenly Father? A good parent knows enough to be decent to a child, and not to trick or hurt the child in any way. The loving Father can be trusted to care for his children much better than that! As the Message put, “Don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give you the Holy Spriit when you ask Him?

The parallel passage in Matthew 7 states that the heavenly Father will give “good things” to those who ask Him. The passage in Luke 11:13 has the Father giving the Holy Spirit, not merely “good things.” Jesus is saying here that the greatest of all good gifts, the ultimate gift from the Father, is His Holy Spirit. Jesus is promising to give His Spirit to those who keep asking. He is asking believers to make a lifestyle out of asking for the Holy Spirit. And just as at Pentecost (Acts 2), the promise of Jesus will come true as the Spirit makes Himself at home in our hearts.

There is no question that the Jesus we find in the gospels remained within Jewish tradition as He taught and preached and told His stories. Jesus taught like a Jew, He argued like a Jew, He reasoned like a Jew, and He told stories like a Jew. One classic method of rabbinic teaching involved the words, “How much more?” The Hebrew word for this line of reasoning is “qal wahomer” (kal-ra-Choh-mar). It means “from light to heavy.” This is a traditional rabbinic strategy of argument that was commonly used when trying to convince someone of a particular point. It means going from a minor matter to a major matter, from lesser to greater. In other words, if something is true and good in a minor matter, how much more will it be truer and even better in a major matter? These words of Jesus in Luke 11:13 is a classic example of rabbinic argument: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

This commonsense type of reasoning has many other examples in the gospels:

Matthew 12:12 – What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good (to heal) on the Sabbath.” If a common sheep is valuable enough to rescue on the Sabbath, how much more important to rescue a person?

Luke 12:24, 28 – “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And if God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?” If God cares for the less valuable things in nature like the birds and the grass, how much more is it likely that God will care for people made in His image?

Luke 11:5-8 and 18:18 – There are two parables about prayer that use this “how much more” style of reasoning. In Luke 11 Jesus tells a story about an angry, apathetic neighbor who resists helping another person in the middle of the night. Eventually the grouchy neighbor relented after the persistent requests for help. The Luke 18 story is about a pagan, callous judge who doesn’t bother listening to the desperate pleas of a widow in distress. Eventually the judge gives in to the widow if only to rid himself of her persistent badgering for help. Both parables strongly imply a “how much more” argument. If an irritable neighbor and unjust judge will respond to a person who begs for help, how much more will a loving Father choose to answer our persistent prayers? Both the neighbor and the judge in these stories were presented as the exact opposite of God in every way. The audience would have known this, of course, and would have laughed at the irony of the neighbor and the judge being compared to God. “By role-playing with divine nature and by using an exaggerated characterization of what God is not like, Jesus teaches us what God is like.” (Brad  Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian). If the uncaring judge and the terrible neighbor eventually relented to those who kept pestering them, how much more likely is it that a compassionate Father will respond to our prayers?